Upon the senatorís arrival, Adam Warthesen with Land Stewardship Project explains to Senator Al Franken the plan for the morning at the Callister Farm in West Concord. From left, Curt Tvedt of Byron, Adam Warthesen, Alan and Lori Callister, Senator Al Franken, Molly Callister and Gail Callister. Photo by Melanie Dobson
By Larry Dobson
U.S. Senator Al Franken toured Callister Farm in West Concord Wednesday, Oct. 23 and met with local residents to discuss federal farm and food safety priorities related to the five-year Farm Bill currently under consideration by Congress. Adam Warthesen from the Land Stewartship Project and a number of other people from the area also attended.
Alan and Lori Callister and their daughters Gail and Molly operate a sustainable poultry farm marketing meat and eggs and performing processing services for other poultry and rabbit growers. They have 11 employees assisting them. They raise about 12,000 chickens annually and produce about 300 dozen eggs weekly. They market primarily through the St. Paul Farmers Market and Mississippi Coop in St. Paul, Seward Coop in Minneapolis, Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, Just Food in Northfield and Lucia's Restaurant in Minneapolis.
The Callisters began raising chickens for their own consumption during the 1980s out of concern for the quality and safety of available poultry products and the family business developed from there. They welcomed Franken to their farm so they could discuss concerns they have about the Farm Bill before Congress.
Lori Callister presented Franken with cookies, coffee and questions after a tour of the processing facility and poultry farm. Among the issues she and others presented to Senator Franken were questions about:
Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. With the average age of Minnesota farmers now in the mid-50s, there is a need for training and credit for young farmers;
Crop Insurance reform. Limits are needed on income eligibility to hold down rates and insure that farmers who actually need help benefit;
Conservation investments. Minimize conservation title cuts and maintain the Conservation Stewardship Program;
Food safety. FDA programs need to differentiate between all ag products and regulated food products;
Family farm businesses. With the high land values and cost of equipment to get established, federal policies are needed to help young farm families get started and federal regulators need to set realistic requirements for smaller processors and producers.
Franken was well acquainted with the issues raised and discussed the hurdles in Congress and efforts he and others are making to address farm issues. He talked about the importance of effective conservation practices supported by federal policy to preserve the quality of the nation's soil and water. Franken shared a letter he and 11 other senators sent to conference committee members working on the Farm Bill in which they asked for:
a minimum of $20 million annually for the next five years for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program;
support for the House Farm Bill's Credit Title providing microloans for new farmers and ranchers;
a minimum of $50 million for the Conservation Reserve Program;
an increase in the advance payment option in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Franken promised to bring the concerns that were raised at the meeting to Washington and work to have them addressed. He said the conference committee was scheduled to work on the Farm Bill this week.